THEATRE director Charlie North-Lewis has always been a ‘glass half full’ sort of man – even when his livelihood was thrown into disarray during the Covid pandemic.

Theatres bore the brunt of seemingly ever-changing rules and regulations over the past two years: enforced closures, socially-distanced seating plans, masks on, masks off, grand re-openings, show cancellations, fearful and financially stretched audiences, and staff furlough.

But to the delight of Charlie, Director of Wimborne’s much-loved Tivoli Theatre, the tide is turning and theatre fans are now flooding back into their seats for a dose of live stand-up comedy, music and drama.Dorset Echo: The Tivoli Theatre in WimborneThe Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne

After weathering the storm less scathed than first feared, the theatre’s future for 2022 is looking bright, not least because of a packed programme of shows that are getting theatre-goers flocking for tickets – including the return of headline act comedian Jim Davidson this month, who is returning to the Dorset venue to film a stand-up show.

Dorset Echo: Jim Davidson remains a controversial name in an increasingly ‘woke’ worldJim Davidson remains a controversial name in an increasingly ‘woke’ world

The comic remains a controversial name in an increasingly ‘woke’ world, finding himself banned from venues he has performed at for decades – including his beloved Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - and most recently being the centre of a censorship row in Evesham after the town council clerk called for a discussion on his ‘suitability’ to perform.

Despite the furore, the council unanimously agreed to hold no opinion on the performer’s upcoming March performances in the town – and Charlie thinks it is ridiculous for theatre managers and civic leaders to attempt to censor shows that aren’t to their personal taste.

Inviting the star back to the stage in Wimborne is a no-brainer for he and his theatre staff, with the January 28 show almost sold out already.

Having performed two nights of his Unlocked tour to near sell-out crowds in September 2021, the former Big Break and Generation Game host will return for an additional show on the tour containing exclusive material about his life. He will be joined by long-time friend and fellow comedian, Miles Crawford as supporting act, with the show being filmed for Jim’s Ustreme streaming channel - which the star says will encourage people to 'laugh like you used to do'.

Dorset Echo: The former Big Break star is returning to DorsetThe former Big Break star is returning to Dorset

Charlie said: “Jim and I go way back – back to the days of Blazers nightclub in Windsor and we always look forward to him performing here.

“Jim always does well here. Even with the uncertainty of Covid in September last year, he pretty much sold out two nights and tickets are selling incredibly well for the show in January. There’s only a handful left.

“I think people just need to laugh after the past couple of years and he is someone who cheers people up. He sort of sticks two fingers up at the situation and gets everybody to laugh at it.

“I have always thought he is a great comedian, a master at making people laugh, and I have always liked his company. All of the crew love him being here too.

“But even if I didn’t, I don’t think theatre managers should ever censor the acts that appear because of their personal taste. The first rule is that we should never be guided by our own taste, we should be guided by what people want to see and what sells tickets – and here in Wimborne, people love Jim Davidson and are more than happy to pay to see him. He was only here a few weeks ago but people are still more than happy to pay to see him live again.”

“I'm really pleased that he will be using our show for a Ustreme filming and we’re looking forward to another great night.”

Dorset Echo: Not everyone's cup of tea: Jim Davidson wants to make people laugh like they used toNot everyone's cup of tea: Jim Davidson wants to make people laugh like they used to

Davidson said: “The Tivoli in Wimborne is the ideal theatre to record a television show. The audiences there are always fantastic and Miles and I cannot wait to get on stage and do the show.”

The star’s return is welcome relief for the theatre, which has had its schedule thrown into turmoil since 2020. But Charlie insists he has remained positive throughout – and has been delighted with ticket sales since England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in July last year, when the vast majority of Covid restrictions were lifted.

He kept socially-distanced seating plans in place for two weeks after the date, but saw how more and more people were steadily willing to flock back for live entertainment in closer company.

“There have been a few things that have made an impact on theatres,” said Charlie.

“There was still some reluctance from the public to buy tickets for shows after ‘Freedom Day’ because they didn’t know what the government’s next move would be so didn’t know if the show they had bought tickets for would be cancelled. Initially also, some had lost confidence in mixing in large crowds, even though we have always taken every precaution to keep the theatre spotless and abide by all Covid rules.

“We’ve had to cancel a few shows and some acts we put on that sold a fair amount of tickets ended up only playing to small audiences because people who bought tickets didn’t turn up.

“But I have always been a glass half full person though and so I remained optimistic that we could get through the other side. Maybe you could call that denial at the situation but the theatre is well run financially and I had confidence people would come back once they were allowed. Denial can sometimes serve you well!”

Dorset Echo: The theatre's policy is to give patrons what they want to seeThe theatre's policy is to give patrons what they want to see

Conscious of other similar venues finding themselves in dire financial predicaments when the pandemic hit, and confident it could weather the Covid storm itself initially, the theatre did not apply for any of the first cultural recovery grant being offered by the government. But when months of lockdowns and restrictions followed, it successfully applied for support funding from the second round of grants, securing around £144,000.

Things were continuing to look up with an upturn in ticket sales following Freedom Day, with the theatre allowed to function at full capacity once again - before it was thrown another curveball to contend with during the eagerly anticipated December 2020 panto season. With ‘Plan B’ restrictions introduced ahead of Christmas, two members of the theatre’s cast of Sleeping Beauty then tested positive for Covid, meaning the first three shows couldn’t go ahead as planned.

Despite the setback the panto was a huge success, running from December 20 to January 3 to more than 6,500 people – way above and beyond what Charlie and his team had predicted. And the demand for fun-filled live entertainment shows no sign of slowing down for the people of Dorset.

Dorset Echo: Jim Davidson met up with Dorset Echo Deputy Editor Vicky Nash during a visit to Weymouth last summerJim Davidson met up with Dorset Echo Deputy Editor Vicky Nash during a visit to Weymouth last summer

“It has been a strange time,” said Charlie. “But we are really pleased with how things are looking already for 2022. Our tickets remain relatively cheap in comparison to other venues and we will always keep giving our audiences the shows they want to see.”

*Tickets for Jim Davidson’s Unlocked performance at Tivoli Theatre, on January 28 cost £27 through the Box Office. Visit